This duo produce wonderful picture books in such short order that one wonders how they can possibly keep up the pace. In a turn-about story that is only too believable, Rex, a puppy, desperately wants a ‘pet person’ for his birthday. Mum says no, Dad says no, even uncles and aunts and grandparents say no, but Rex is not to be deterred. In spite of his relatives’ tales of people being vicious, smelly, impossible to train, and likely to ruin the furniture, Rex goes out and finds a lonely-looking ginger person. At first everything goes well and they have great fun together. But soon Rex begins to discover that his new ‘pet’ has most of the characteristics that his family has told him about. What will he do? He can’t seem to get rid of him. The denouement when it comes is unexpected and laugh-out-loud funny. There is even a final surprise too! As always with Ross, the illustrations are a delight, with lots of tiny details that show clearly his anarchic tendencies: Father burying bones in the garden in neat rows while baby sister whacks moles on the head, grandmother carrying out a smelly basket in which grandfather has deposited something unmentionable while telling Rex that people develop ‘embarrassing habits’ as they grow older. It’s all great stuff, and may even convince the occasional family that having a new pet might not be the life style accoutrement they think it is.
Reversing the role of pets and people in a humorous way.
Taking responsibility for an animal as a pet.
When the People are Away by Ann Jungman and Linda Birch.
This is an amazing account of a wild week of freedom for two ginger cats, whose owners go on holiday. Their all night disco, video show, all- in wrestling competition, singing contest and midnight feast, should relieve the angst of cat owners leaving their pet at home when they go away. This would lend itself to discussions about what cats do either at night or when they are left home alone. The illustrations add a great deal to the action.
Dr. Xargle’s Book of Earth Tiggers by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross.
The humour here is created by the reverse psychology of an alien’s description of the complexity of a domestic cat. It is maintained at a high level right through to the last page. The use of alternative vocabulary to describe the familiar e.g. gold fish-golden fishstick, and cats tail-waggler, would be a great way to improve the power of description and observational detail.
I want a Pet by Lauren Child.
The child in this story has some strange choices for potential pets but sees the disastrous possibilities when she consults her family for advice. This would be a good introduction to discussion or writing about how to choose a pet, and what needs to be considered. This was Lauren Child’s first picture book, and the main character is very close to Lola, the little sister of Charlie and Lola fame. It would be interesting to track how Lola develops from here.
Jacob O’Reilly Wants a Pet by Lynne Rickards and Lee Wildish.
This has a similar theme of unsuitable pets becoming unmanageable but it is written in rhyme
and has a different twist to the plot and ending.
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell.
This is traditionally seen as a book for very young children but also deals with the theme of how to find a pet that is suitable to have at home. The fact that it is probably very familiar to children might lend itself to a rewrite, using other zoo animals, and keeping the same concise format as a model.
The Battle of Bubble and Squeak by Philippa Pearce.
Sid wants to keep two gerbils that his friend has given him against the express wishes of his house proud mother. She does not want them in the house. The reader is on the side of the gerbils who get up to all kinds of mischief, including gnawing the best curtains and running up and down Sid’s trouser legs. However, when disaster strikes in the form of an attack on Bubble from a neighbouring cat, emotions run high and the theme of family relationships is dealt with skilfully. The responsibility of having a pet and the emotional attachment that develops could be discussed as this story unfolds. This is a much longer story and would lend itself to being read to a class.
Any one of these books could be the starting point for children to find out more about owning a pet of their choice and investigate a whole range of information that would be helpful to know before becoming a responsible owner.
How could a reluctant parent be persuaded to let a pet into the house? This could be a chance to write a persuasive letter to press the case.
What do pets think of their humans? Ask children to role play a pet animal to portray the plus and minus sides of being a pet in their household.
by Liz Robertson